Escape from Alcatraz

So at the start of 2011 after a less than a great year of training (again) I was looking for a new challenge to help motivate me and knowing / thinking it should probably be a triathlon I started looking around for something slightly different….   …. I came across the Escape from Alcatraz and whats more in 2011 it was on the 5th June (my birthday) clearly it was a sign or something.  Sadly all of the places had gone but for some reason I made a note of when the lottery would open for the 2012 place.

On the 1st September 2011 I duly filled in the lottery place form made up an estimate time to complete the race and hit submit, experience in the London Marathon ballott told me I wouldn’t get a place and so I thought nothing more of it.

So on the 5th October I was very surprised to receive an email with the subject “Get ready to ESCAPE from ALCATRAZ!” this wasn’t part of the plan, I was meant to try and get a place for a number of years and always complain about my luck in not getting in over a pint of beer or some such, not succeed on the first attempt (although later conversations on the boat out to Alcatraz would suggest that the ballot is weighted in favour of overseas athletes).  On the 7th October I duly clicked on the link to accept my place and paid my registration fee, I contacted Virgin Atlantic and managed to get a flight sorted using my air miles and a quick hit on Expedia and everything was booked, easy bit done, now to the training.

During the course of 2011 it would be fair to say I didn’t do much, in fact as of this point I’ve already trained over 50% more in 2012 (excluding gym time) than I did in 2011 so my work (and that of my trainer Pete Frost) was cut out, still always a bit more time for some procrastination, June 2012 is a long time away…..

…..On Sunday 10th June at 07:30 (ish) just off shore of Alcatraz with a shout of “shit!” I took a big leap for Dave-kind and jumped into the cold water of San Francisco bay to begin my escape, I wasn’t alone, I had 1999 other athletes for company as well as 100 boats or so in the water to help guide this unusual flock to the shore. My ESCAPE from ALCATRAZ was on!

The swim leg went on for about as long as I expected but passed pretty quickly, I noticed all sorts of details as my body came alive with racing again, each time my hand entered the water I noticed the temperature of the water and that it was different to the previous stroke, I didn’t feel the cold and managed to avoid most of the other swimmers, the bay is a big place after all.  I didn’t really notice the current, but then I was mostly swimming with it hitting my side.  I did notice that my sighting markers took a long time to change, the Aquatic Centre, Fort Mason, The Yacht Club, the yellow buoy that I needed to keep on my left as I got to the beach.  Ah yes the yellow buoy, except was that a hat, or something else, and why were there three of them?

The three yellow buoy’s marked the far right of the swim exit so I had overshot slightly.  Not massively, but enough that when I reflect back on it I’m slightly irritated, it certainly wasn’t going to really have an impact on my overall time, and certainly not any difference in placing, but something I will avoid when I race Alcatraz again (there I’ve said it)  Out of the water, up the beach, there is a huge cheering crowd which you could actually hear a few hundred metres offshore which was amazing, into the mini transition to hunt down my bag, I’ve already got my wetsuit half way off at this point having ensured I started escaping from it as I came up the beach whilst it still had water in to help make it easier.  One of the support crew managed to find my bag with my hand towel from the hotel, bottle of water and a pair of trainers for the run to transition. She then helped pull my wetsuit off my legs.  I quickly (not really but I like to think it was) stuffed all my swim things back in the bag, tied a knot in it and idely wondered if I would see it again as I headed to transition proper.

The towel and the bottle of water in the transition bag was a top tip, ok so Andy Potts doesn’t bother with this mini transition, and I did see some people who either didn’t find there bag or opted to limp the half mile run to transition proper, ask them if the time saving was worth it?  I bet it wasn’t, especially when they came off the bike and had to do the 8 mile run.

I had remembered roughly where my bike was, in between a Canadian and UK flag, and also counted down the numbers on the racking.  Helmet on, then socks, bike shoes, scoff some jelly beans, then out with the bike, oh and a quick chat with the guy next to me whilst I was doing this.  Amusingly as I had run into transition the PA was announcing that the lead bikes were at mile 11, I had some catching up to do!!

The bike leg was “Up, Down, Left, Right all the time” according to the race organiser who had done the briefings that I attended, I took the opportunity on the flat first mile to take on fuel and water and wondered just how much Up, Down there would be (quite a lot it would seem)

The bike course is described as “challenging” and it also suggested that tri bars and TT bikes aren’t really suitable, not that stopped a lot of people zipping around on some very cool bikes.  The Felt and I cracked, and whilst perhaps not “riding it like I stole it” I tried to ensure I pushed myself whilst ensuring I didn’t leave nothing in the tank for the run, using my new gel bottle made fuelling on the ride much easier and I ensured I kept taking on liquid as well.  The doesn’t disappoint, hilly, technical with amazing scenery, the drop down to the beach before heading into Golden Gate park was amazing, but tempered with the knowledge I would have to do the same “drop” in reverse in several miles time as apart from the loop in Golden Gate park the bike leg is essentially an out and back course.  The return from the park seemed to go quicker than the cycle out, probably all in the mind and as I hit the flat again on the way into transition the crowds grew and I increased my cadence to prepare for the run, hitting the dismount line and “running” into T2 I’d had enough of the bike and was ready (in my mind) for the 8 mile run.

I easily found my space in the rack, swapped shoes, ditched my crash helment, scoffed some sports beans and headed out on to the run course, the first part of which is flat, easy and nice, at this point the race was already won by Andy Potts so clearly I was racing to finish and not for the win ;-) As you head out alongside the bike course, you can see the Golden Gate bridge, and as you run underneath it you can see the climb you are about to run, not withstanding that on the return from the beach on the other side of the bridge there is the infamous “sand ladder” up from Baker Beach.

The run was amazing with well staffed aid stations at every mile with Americans doing what Americans do best who whooping, hollering and hi-5’s all round and I loved it, I took water or gatorade at most of the stops yet in spite of what felt like a near constant intake of liquid it was more than 4 hours post race before I needed to use the “bathroom”.  Having passed under the Golden Gate Bridge I’d reached the highest point on the run leg, the path was narrow and with athletes coming the other way it was single file in parts, any feeling fatigue or negativity to what I was trying to do instantly evaporated as I passed a fellow escapee who was completing the race on cheetah blades, I certainly had nothing to complain about.  The run down to Baker beach was a nice wide trail, followed by the run along the beach to the turnaround point.  At this point on the way out you are supposed to run on the soft sand at the top of the beach, returning along the waterline, following those before me and running on the damp sand made life a lot easier, hitting the turnaround I knew the challenge of the sand ladder was ahead along with the climb up to the bridge before the downhill into the finish chute.  Running along the waterline was nice, my pace felt fine and I knew I was on course to complete the race, although not having looked at my watch didn’t really know how long I’d been going.

Running up from the waterline to the start of the sand ladder I stayed with my new best friend the whole way up, he was counting the steps out loud as he hit them, thankfully when he hit 200 he either lost count or started to count in his head, I used the cable handrail and posts to help me up, and ensured I hit every wooden step that wasn’t buried in sand, it was hard, but then nothing in the race until that point had been especially easy.  A smile to the camera guy at the top of the ladder and a final push to the top of the climb and it was all known ground and almost all downhill to the finish.

As I ran on the flat I started seeing people running that didn’t have EFA numbers on them and were dressed in more sensible running gear, the locals were out in force for their Sunday runs, one of the guys who ran past me telling me “You look awesome” and we did a Hi-5, he passed me again on the final run into the finish area and it was great for the morale boost.  The guys at the final drinks station were shouting / screaming and generally being over the top, it was great, and I was going to finish.  Not only was I going to finish, but I was going to complete the race in under 4 hours.

Running down the finishing chute was amazing as each person was announced over the line….

“….this is 989, David Smith from Bourne End wherever the hell that is….”

I had done it, I had escaped from Alcatraz and I had loved every minute of it.

Garmin GPS Tracks:

One Reply to “Escape from Alcatraz”

  1. It’s difficult to describe how proud I am of you for this. Isuzu an awesome achievement, and clearly such an awesome event, you deserve evey high five, holler and cheer you got!

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